Tonbridge Juddians 17
Bury St Edmunds 20
Sam Bixby’s late try earned Bury St Edmunds a dramatic victory at Tonbridge Juddians to keep their promotion bandwagon on track.
Tom Bird’s drop goal, Bixby’s first try and another from James Solomon gave Bury a 13-0 lead at half-time, but Tonbridge fought back after the interval to lead 17-13 going into the closing stages.
However, Kieran Black and Matt Edison stormed the length of the pitch in the closing stages to tee up Bixby to crash over from 20 metres with just five minutes remaining.
Juddians came firing out of the blocks, but Bury quickly established control, with Aaron Waters and George Bretag-Norris in the engine room, Bixby and Black on the back row and Luke Beales and Beau Gibson on the front row dominating proceedings.
Bird at fly-half made use of the advantage law to land an audacious drop goal from 33 metres and put Bury ahead after just five minutes.
With the heavy underfoot conditions it was not surprising both sides looked to suck the defence in before launching long tactical kicks downfield.
Bury, however, were beginning to assert their authority and a well-won penalty sent Tim Mann away.
He timed his pass well to the supporting Michael Sage, but a magnificent last-gasp tackle prevented a certain score.
As the mid-point of the half approached, Bury began to turn the screw.
A superb scrum saw the home team scamper back and, with Waters to the fore, the visitors refused to let them escape.
Having turned the ball over in the Tonbridge 22, the Bury forwards regrouped and rumbled over, Bixby being the grateful recipient.
Once the game restarted, Tonbridge never really cleared their lines and – when a kick missed touch – the Bury three-quarters spread the ball wide, creating the space for Sage on the loop to put Solomon in by the corner.
Understandably, considering the conditions, Bird could not convert from wide out.
Shaq Meyers and Mann continued to make space despite such close attentions, and another score seemed certain when Black’s superb dink through just found touch before a green player could touch the ball down.
The game started getting a little fractious after the break, which seemed to suit Tonridge more and the game’s dynamic changed in a matter of minutes.
Having hardly created any attacks of note in the first half, a well-worked lineout routine saw hooker Tom Murray scoot over untouched for a popular converted score.
Bury went back on the attack but were knocked back with the loss of scrum-half Simon Sexton to a knee injury.
Undeterred, they pressed forward and Bird’s superb kick had Bury camped on the hosts’ tryline.
Time and again Bury pressed for the line, but frustration got the better of them and a long miss-pass was intercepted by JJ Murray, who ran the full length of the pitch, outsprinting the Bury backline for a score under the posts.
The conversion put Tonbridge ahead and – with their tails up – they extended their advantage to four points with Miki Zanirato’s flawless kicking.
With 20 minutes to play, the intensity from both sides visibly rose a notch or two.
Bury’s Bulk Powders man-of-the-match Kieran Black burst through three tackles to get Bury into the home 22.
The forwards took over and powered over the line, but referee Jack Sutton adjudged they had not grounded the ball.
Tonbridge were fired up and, for the first time in the match, beginning to win the war up front.
Perhaps the heavy conditions were finally taking their toll on Bury and time was running out for the boys from The Haberden, but they refused to give up and scored a fantastic try to regain the lead with five minutes to play.
Running the ball from just inside their own half, Black found some space and cleverly nudged the ball forward.
Edison won the race to it, diving, gathering and offloading to Black in one motion.
Black immediately transferred to the supporting Bixby and he raced in the last 20 metres, with Bird adding the conversion to make it 20-17.
Charlie Pask danced away from the restart, creating space for another score, but Bird’s pass to Sage just went astray.
Tonbridge piled on the pressure, twice earning lineouts close to the Bury try line, but on both occasions the visitors managed to clear their lines and held on for a narrow victory.
n Bury St Edmunds Under-13s overcame old adversaries Ipswich YM 31-15 to advance in the Suffolk Cup on Sunday.
Harvey Williams and Charlie Gibson scored tries for Bury in the first half, countered by one from Ipswich.
Alhough Ipswich scored further tries at the start and end of the second half, Jordan Dunkerley touched down twice for Bury and Valentin Moraru once, while Jack North converted three of the tries.
The man-of-the-match award went to Fergus Vickery.